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All for one and one for all – Divisional Court confirms single claim form can be used for multiple claimants

Posted on 4 July 2023

In Abbott & Ors v Ministry of Defence [2023] EWHC 1475 (KB), the Divisional Court has provided much needed clarity on an important practical aspect of multi-party claims, confirming that a claim form brought in the names of nearly 3,500 claimants was permitted under the Civil Procedure Rules. The decision is welcome news for prospective claimants, provided that their claims have enough in common.


The decision concerned claims for noise-induced hearing loss made by current and former military personnel in relation to their exposure to excessive noise levels during military service. The claims were commenced by a single claim form, which set out the name and address of one claimant (Mr Abbott) on the first page, and then gave the names and addresses of the remaining 3,449 claimants in an attached schedule.

However, at a case management hearing, Master Davison held that an "omnibus" claim form of this type was not permitted under the Civil Procedure Rules. As a result, all the claimants (other than Mr Abbott) were required to each issue their own individual claim form and pay the appropriate court fee.

The claimants immediately appealed but, in the meantime, attempted to comply with the Master's order.

Given the significant number of claims that needed to be issued, considerable strain was placed upon both the claimants' solicitors and the court office, and nearly nine months after the order a number of claims lodged with the court had still not been issued.

The Divisional Court's judgment

Given the potential importance and general applicability of the issues raised as to the meaning of the court rules, the case was heard by a Divisional Court (sitting with two judges).

As Mr Justice Andrew Baker noted, under CPR 19.1, any number of claimants or defendants can be joined as parties to a claim, and there is no absolute limit on the number of claimants on a single claim form. However, under CPR 7.3, a single claim form should only be used to start multiple claims if they "can be conveniently disposed of in the same proceedings". Weight of numbers, without more, is therefore not relevant to whether it is proper to use a single claim form. Instead, the key issue is one of convenience.

Noting that "convenience" conveys usefulness or helpfulness, the judge considered that the question is therefore whether it would be possible and helpful or useful to have all the claims determined in the same set of proceedings. The most important factor in determining that question will generally be the degree of commonality between the causes of action, including the significance for each individual claim of any common issues of fact or law.

The judge added that "determination in the same set of proceedings" did not mean the claims all need to be determined at a single trial. If there are likely to be common issues of sufficient significance that their determination would constitute real progress towards the final determination of each claim in a set, he considered that could suffice.

The appeal was allowed.


The Divisional Court's decision has come rather late in the day for the various claimants in this case, who were obliged to bear the practical and financial burden of issuing separate claim forms.

However, as the judgment indicates, the implications of separate claim forms goes beyond practical difficulties. A trial has now been listed, hearing 8 lead claims. The defendant accepted that any findings from that trial may be persuasive in the other claims, but it contended that they will not be binding. The claimant did not agree, and the Divisional Court did not resolve the issue, but Mr Justice Andrew Baker did not consider it was self-evidently wrong. He also observed that it was not an argument the defendant could have made if the proceedings had still been constituted by the omnibus claim form.

Whether the defendant's argument is ultimately accepted, in group claims there will almost always be at least some variation in the factual matrix as between claimants, which could potentially affect the application of any overarching decision. It is for the court and the parties to find an effective and efficient way through this, within the scope of the rules.

The decision in Abbott is therefore good news for claimants, provided that there is sufficient commonality in their claims. Where claims appear to have little in common, the mere fact that it will be convenient to the parties to have the claims subject to joint case management is unlikely to suffice.

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